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Host-gut microbiota interactions during pregnancy.

Mammalian pregnancy is characterized by a well-known suite of physiological changes that support fetal growth and development, thereby positively affecting both maternal and offspring fitness. However, mothers also experience trade-offs between current and future maternal reproductive success, and maternal responses to these trade-offs can result in mother-offspring fitness conflicts. Knowledge of the mechanisms through which these trade-offs operate, as well as the contexts in which they operate, is critical for understanding the evolution of reproduction. Historically, hormonal changes during pregnancy have been thought to play a pivotal role in these conflicts since they directly and indirectly influence maternal metabolism, immunity, fetal growth and other aspects of offspring development. However, recent research suggests that gut microbiota may also play an important role. Here, we create a foundation for exploring this role by constructing a mechanistic model linking changes in maternal hormones, immunity and metabolism during pregnancy to changes in the gut microbiota. We posit that marked changes in hormones alter maternal gut microbiome composition and function both directly and indirectly via impacts on the immune system. The gut microbiota then feeds back to influence maternal immunity and metabolism. We posit that these dynamics are likely to be involved in mediating maternal and offspring fitness as well as trade-offs in different aspects of maternal and offspring health and fitness during pregnancy. We also predict that the interactions we describe are likely to vary across populations in response to maternal environments. Moving forward, empirical studies that combine microbial functional data and maternal physiological data with health and fitness outcomes for both mothers and infants will allow us to test the evolutionary and fitness implications of the gestational microbiota, enriching our understanding of the ecology and evolution of reproductive physiology.

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